Hitting the road with kids this Spring Break? Here’s your survival guide! If you missed the other parts of the series, check out Tips for Road Tripping with Kids and Behavior Tips for Road Tripping with Kids.
Today I’ll share some of the best ideas for keeping kids engaged and busy during a road trip. Knowing we were covering more miles than ever before on our trip out west (6,662 to be exact!), I thought about what had worked well before, and did some research to come up with a few other ideas. Here’s what worked best for us–if it got us through all that driving, hopefully there are some tips that will work well for your little travelers too!
- “No BORED Allowed!”: A few days before leaving, create a list of fun activities that they can do on the road, then tape it somewhere visible in the vehicle once you’re rolling. The word “Bored” is officially banned from my vacation vehicles. Instead, they’re allowed to ask one another or a parent for a suggestion of what to do—we came up with plenty, and I’m happy to help them with any of them, but whining isn’t an option.
- Cookie Sheet Magnetic/Dry Erase Lap Desk: I found this idea (as well as the next one) at Moser Moments, and it’s absolutely brilliant. Hot glue a piece of fleece to the bottom of a small cookie sheet. I put the glue on the sides of the cookie sheet so the fleece could wrap around the edges. Then I used a small piece of stick-on velcro to attach an extra little rectangle of fleece to use as an eraser.
The whole project cost less than $2 per kid to make: $1 per cookie sheet at the dollar store, and cheap $2/yard fleece (a yard covered four with a bunch left over). I also found 3-packs of magnetic dry-erase markers for $1 at the dollar store, which worked great and stuck to the tray when the kids weren’t writing with them.
The kids used the trays to eat, color, write, and use magnetic letters (you can see them in use in the pictures above). I also brought along my magnetic tape so the kids could design their own characters on construction paper, cut them out, attach magnets, and use them to create stories.
- Suction Cup Window Storage Baskets: Another idea from Moser Moments; saw this and thought “Why didn’t I think of that?!” Use a suction cup basket from the dollar store (like what you’d put in the shower) to stick to the window to store markers or whatever other treasures your kids want to have handy. I actually found a 9-pack of suction cups and a 3-pack of regular baskets for $1 each at the dollar store, and decided to use those instead. Same basic idea, and it worked like a charm (also pictured above).
- Laminated Road Trip Games: Since we had the dry erase markers handy, I decided to laminate some of our favorite classic road trip games so they could be used over and over again. Mom’s Minivan has a great resource for these, including two bingo games, a scavenger hunt, a 50 states license plate checklist, and the always-popular tic-tac-toe and dot game. We used dry erase markers for all of them, wiped them clean, and they were ready for next time. Hopefully they’ll last a few summers, making it well worth the $6 cost of laminating at Staples.
- The Usuals: Coloring books, activity pads, plain paper, and markers are old stand-bys for a reason. In the months before leaving on our trip, I kept an eye out for cheapies with their favorite characters, and it was great to pull out something new halfway through the trip to keep them happy. Washable markers are great—they won’t melt in high heat like crayons, and they don’t need sharpened like colored pencils.
- Electronics, batteries, and chargers: While we usually limit screen time at home, for a long trip it’s whatever gets us there smiling. I load a few new games onto the iPad, new freebie books onto the Kindle, and make sure we have plenty of batteries for the Leapster. Headphones are a great accessory!
- DVD case: We store all our DVDs in a large case that holds up to 200. It keeps them all handy at home, and when we’re ready to hit the road, we just grab the whole library and go. Takes up a ton less room, and you don’t have to pick and choose what to bring.
- Junior Ranger Booklets: If you’re hitting a National Park or National Monument, your kids could have a chance to become Junior Rangers by completing activity booklets. Many of these are available online, and you can print them off and work on some of the activities (like word searches and crossword puzzles) while you drive. See a complete list of Junior Ranger locations HERE.
- Not-so-Restful Rest Stops: When you stop the car, that’s a great chance to let the kids burn off some energy. Try to stop somewhere with a little grass to run around on. Bring a soccer ball or Frisbee, run races, play tag…anything to get them moving and get the wiggles out.
- Roadside Attractions: If there’s something cool and unique to check out, encourage the kids to take a look. Natural wonders and man-made oddities are part of the joy of road trips! On our big trip, we saw Cadillac Ranch, the Wigwam Motel (inspiration for the Cozy Cone in Cars), the World’s Largest Rocking Chair, the Conoco station in Shamrock, TX that inspired Ramone’s in Cars, as well as a ton of beautiful scenery.*
*But don’t get bent out of shape if the kids don’t quite appreciate them the way you wish they would. As my husband wisely said during this year’s trip, “We’re getting the opportunity to see a bunch of cool things that we want to see. If they appreciate them, great, but as long as they let us appreciate them, I’m happy.” (Smart man, huh? This was after I threw a little fit when the kids wouldn’t pull their eyes away from the Fievel Goes West DVD to look out the window and see the ACTUAL WEST as we drove through it…oh well.)
Those are my top tips–how about you? What are your best ideas for keeping kids busy on long road trips? We’d love to hear them in the comments!